Matthew 12 – The Religious Leaders Continue to Reject Jesus
A. Sabbath controversies.
1. (1-2) The Pharisees condemn the disciples of Jesus for supposedly harvesting grain on the Sabbath.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
a. His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the heads of grain and to eat: There was nothing wrong with what they did, because their gleaning was not considered stealing according to Deuteronomy 23:25. The issue was only the day on which they did it. The rabbis made an elaborate list of “do” and “don’t” items relevant to the Sabbath, and this violated several items on this list.
i. “We incidentally learn from this story that our Lord and his disciples were poor, and that he who fed the multitudes did not use his miraculous power to feed his own followers, but left them till they did what poor men are forced to do to supply a little stay for their stomachs.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The law of Israel allowed people traveling through an area to glean enough grain for a small meal from fields in the area (Deuteronomy 23:25). Farmers were commanded to not completely harvest their crops to leave a little behind for the sake of travelers and the poor.
iii. Matthew just quoted Jesus offering us an easy yoke and a light burden. Now he shows us the kind of heavy burdens and hard yokes the religious leaders put upon the people. When the disciples began to pluck the heads of grain, in the eyes of the religious leaders they were guilty of:
· Preparing food.
This represented four violations of the Sabbath in one mouthful!
iv. At this time, many rabbis filled Judaism with elaborate rituals related to the Sabbath and observance of other laws. Ancient rabbis taught that on the Sabbath a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder; but he could carry something with the back of his hand, with his foot, elbow, or in the ear, on the hair, in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or sandal. On the Sabbath one was forbidden to tie a knot – except a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, one could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket and then to the rope.
v. “The Jews were so superstitious, concerning the observance of the Sabbath, that in their wars with Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Romans, they thought it a crime even to attempt to defend themselves on the Sabbath: when their enemies observed this, they deterred their operations to that day. It was through this, that Pompey was enabled to take Jerusalem.” (Clarke)
b. Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath: Jesus never violated God’s command to observe the Sabbath or approved of His disciples violating God’s Sabbath command, but He often broke man’s legalistic additions to that law and He sometimes seems to have deliberately broken those human additions.
i. Even some Jewish people in Jesus’ day recognized that the rules about the Sabbath were mostly human additions to the law. Carson quotes an ancient Jewish writing that said, “The rules about the Sabbath…are as mountains hanging by a hair, for Scripture is scanty and the rules are many.”
ii. The Pharisees here seem hard at work supervising and accusing the disciples. This was a greater violation of the Sabbath. “Did they not break the Sabbath by setting a watch over them?” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-8) Jesus defends His disciples.
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
a. Have you not read what David did when he was hungry: The first principle Jesus presented is simple and illustrated by David’s experience with the priests and the showbread (1 Samuel 21). Jesus reminded them that human need is more important than observing ceremonial rituals.
i. The incident with David was a valid defense, because:
· It was a case of eating.
· It probably happened on the Sabbath (1 Samuel 21:6).
· It concerned not only David, but also his followers.
ii. The context of David’s taking the bread in 1 Samuel 21 shows that it was justified for him to do it. “To have eaten the holy bread out of profanity, or bravado, or levity, might have involved the offender in the judgment of death; but to do so in urgent need was not blameworthy in the case of David.” (Spurgeon)
b. The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless: The second principle Jesus presented is also simple. The priests themselves break the Sabbath all the time. Perhaps the Pharisees didn’t understand as much about Sabbath observance as they thought they did.
i. “The Temple ritual always involved work – the kindling of fires, the slaughter and the preparation of animals, the lifting of them on to the altar, and a host of other things. This work was actually doubled on the Sabbath, for on the Sabbath the offerings were doubled (cp. e.g. Numbers 28:9).” (Barclay)
ii. The reference to the passage I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), and the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of this principle was also a way that Jesus questioned the confidence the Pharisees had in their man-made traditions. They used those traditions to justify lifting principles like sacrifice above principles like mercy, when God would have them do just the opposite.
iii. “Where two laws in respect of some circumstance seem to clash one with another, so as we cannot obey both, our obedience is due to that which is the more excellent law.” (Poole)
c. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath: The third principle was the most dramatic, based on who Jesus is. He is greater than the temple, even as much as they honored and valued the temple. Even more so, He is Lord even of the Sabbath.
i. This was a direct claim to Deity. Jesus said that He had the authority to know if His disciples broke the Sabbath law, because He is the Lord even of the Sabbath.
ii. Jesus was indeed greater than the temple. Considering how highly the temple was regarded in the days of Jesus, this was a shocking statement. Yet the temple as it stood in Jesus’ day did not have the ark of the covenant, that important demonstration of the throne and presence of God. Yet Jesus was a much greater demonstration of the presence of God – He was God made flesh! The temple also lacked the Shekinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the sacred fire from heaven. Yet Jesus is all these things to us; He is surely greater than the temple.
iii. Since Jesus is greater than the temple, we should regard Him as so.
· The temple was admired with love and wonder; we should admire Jesus even more.
· The temple was joyfully visited; we should come to Jesus with even more joy.
· The temple was honored as a holy place; we should honor Jesus even more so.
· The temple was a place of sacrifice and service; we should do even more for Jesus.
· The temple was a place for worship; we should worship Jesus even more.
3. (9-14) A controversy regarding healing on the Sabbath.
Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”; that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
a. He went into their synagogue: A general theme through this section of Matthew is the rising opposition against Jesus. Sometimes this opposition is expressed against Him directly and sometimes attacks on His disciples. Yet we see that Jesus, as a faithful Jewish man, continued to go to synagogue normally. We might say that Jesus was a faithful church-going man, even when He had reason not to be.
i. “Jesus set the example of attending public worship. The synagogues had no divine appointment to authorize them, but in the nature of things it must be right and good to meet for the worship of God on his own day, and therefore Jesus was there. He had nothing to learn, yet he went up to the assembly on the day which the Lord God had hallowed.” (Spurgeon)
b. A man who had a withered hand: At best, the religious leaders saw the man with the withered hand as an interesting test case. It is more likely that they saw the man as bait for a Sabbath controversy trap for Jesus. In contrast, Jesus looked at the man through eyes of compassion.
i. These accusers also knew Jesus would do something when He saw this man in need. In this sense, these critics had more faith than many of us. We sometimes seem to doubt that Jesus wants to really or miraculously meet the needs of others.
c. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath: Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by showing their greater concern for their own possessions than for a man in need, arguing persuasively that it can’t be wrong to do good on the Sabbath. Then Jesus compassionately healed the man.
i. “The withered hand was literally ‘dry’, i.e. lifeless, perhaps paralysed; the man was thus not in imminent danger of death, which alone justified treatment on the sabbath according to Mishnah Yoma 8:6. He could just as well be healed the next day.” (France)
d. Stretch out your hand: When Jesus commanded the man “stretch out your hand,” He commanded the man to do something impossible in his current condition. But Jesus gave both the command and the ability to fulfill it, and the man put forth the effort and was healed.
i. “The man’s hand was withered; but God’s mercy had still preserved to him the use of his feet: He uses them to bring him to the public worship of God, and Jesus meets and heals him there.” (Clarke)
ii. “He stretched out his restored hand, assuming that not till restored could the hand be stretched out. The healing and the outstretching may be conceived as contemporaneous.” (Bruce)
iii. “Christ sometimes used the ceremony of laying on his hand; here he doth not, to let us know that that was but a sign of what was done by his power.” (Poole)
e. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him: In response to this display of compassion, power, and wisdom the Pharisees, in the hardness of their hearts, did not respond in reverent worship and submission but in hardened, murderous rejection.
i. This is a significant development in the opposition against Jesus from the religious leaders. “Hitherto, they had been content with finding fault; now it is come to plotting against His life – a tribute to His power…Such is the evil fruit of Sabbath controversies.” (Bruce)
ii. Luke 6:11 says that the critics of Jesus were filled with rage when Jesus healed this man. Which was more a violation of the Sabbath: When Jesus healed a man, or when these hate-filled men plotted the murder of a godly Man who never sinned against anybody?
4. (15-21) In spite of the rejection of the religious leaders, the common people still follow Jesus, and He remains God’s chosen servant.
But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
a. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there: For a time, Jesus withdrew somewhat from public ministry as the opposition rose against Him. This was not out of cowardice, but in respect to God the Father’s timing for the course and culmination of His ministry. It could not be allowed to peak too soon.
b. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all: Jesus did what He could to escape the press of the crowds, but the crowds simply followed Him. Nevertheless, He responded with compassion and He healed them all.
i. This is one of the few references in the gospels of Jesus healing all on a specific occasion, yet it is important and appropriate here. Matthew wants us to know that the press of the crowd did not make Jesus impatient or angry. He also wants us to know that the determination of this crowd was evidence of their faith; therefore, all were healed.
c. Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen: The quotation from Isaiah 42:1-5 speaks of the gentle character of the Messiah, who is the Servant of Yahweh. This was a common and important designation of Jesus.
i. Jesus described Himself as a servant in Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Mark 10:43-45. Peter, in his Acts 3 sermon, gives our Savior the title His Servant Jesus (Acts 3:13 and 3:26). In Acts 4, the praying people of God spoke of Your holy Servant Jesus (Acts 4:27, 4:30). But Jesus isn’t just a servant. He is The Servant, and everyone should behold, as the LORD says, My Servant.
ii. Jesus the Servant is an example to us as servants, but He is so much more than that. He is our Servant. He serves us; not only in what He did in the past, but also He serves us every day through His constant love, care, guidance, and intercession. Jesus did not stop serving when He went to heaven; He serves all His people more effectively than ever from heaven.
d. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets: This doesn’t mean that Jesus never spoke loudly. It refers to His gentle, lowly heart and actions. Jesus didn’t make His way by an overpowering personality and loud, overwhelming talk. Instead, Jesus made an impression upon others by the Spirit of God upon Him.
e. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench: This is another reference to the gentle character of Jesus. A reed is a fairly fragile plant, yet if a reed is bruised the Servant will handle it so gently that He will not break it. And if flax, used as a wick for an oil lamp, does not flame but only smokes, He will not quench it into extinguishing. Instead, the Servant will gently nourish the smoking flax, fanning it into flame again.
i. Often we feel that God deals roughly with our weaknesses and failures. Just the opposite is true. He deals with them gently, tenderly, helping them along until the bruised reed is strong and the smoking flax is in proper flame.
ii. Jesus sees the value in a bruised reed, even when no one else can. He can make beautiful music come from a bruised reed, as He puts His strength in it! Though a smoking flax is good for nothing, Jesus knows it is valuable for what it can be when it is refreshed with oil. Many of us are like the bruised reed, and we need to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). Others are like the smoking flax, and can only burn brightly for the LORD again when we are drenched in oil, with a constant supply coming, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
f. In His name Gentiles will trust: Finally, the quotation from Isaiah 42 also speaks of the ultimate ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles. This was something surprising – and perhaps even offensive – to Matthew’s Jewish readers, but it is obviously Scriptural, according to Isaiah 42.
B. Continuing rejection by the religious leaders.
1. (22-24) Jesus delivers a man possessed by a demon.
Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
a. He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw: Again, Jesus displayed His complete power and authority over demons, casting out demonic powers that the traditions of the day considered impossible.
b. Could this be the Son of David: The crowds reacted with Messianic expectation, but the religious leaders responded by attributing Jesus’ power to the prince of demons (This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub).
i. “The Pharisees’ accusation amounts to a charge of sorcery, one which continued to be leveled against Jesus in later Jewish polemic.” (France)
ii. “Let others censure with the Pharisees; let us wonder with the multitudes.” (Trapp)
2. (25-29) Jesus answers the accusation that He works by Satan’s power.
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
a. But Jesus knew their thoughts: This was remarkable, but not necessarily a mark of the divinity of Jesus. The Holy Spirit can give the gift of supernatural knowledge to an individual (the word of knowledge mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8).
b. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation: Jesus logically observed that it makes no sense for Satan to cast out Satan. The Pharisees needed to explain how Satan benefited by the work Jesus had just done.
i. “One devil may yield and give place to another, to gain a greater advantage for the whole society, but one never quarrelleth with another.” (Poole)
ii. “Satan may be wicked, He says in effect, but he is not a fool.” (Bruce) “Whatever fault the devils have, they are not at strife with each other; that fault is reserved for the servants of a better Master.” (Spurgeon)
c. By whom do your sons cast them out: Jesus asked a question based on their (wrong) premise that He operated by Satan’s power. If that were true, then how did their own Jewish exorcists cast them out?
i. “The Jewish exorcists operated in conventional fashion by use of herbs and magical formulae, and the results were probably insignificant. The practice was sanctioned by custom, and harmless. But in casting out devils, as in all other things, Jesus was original, and His method was too effectual. His power, manifest to all, was His offence.” (Bruce)
ii. “Envy causes persons often to condemn in one, what they approve in another.” (Spurgeon)
iii. I cast out demons by the Spirit of God: “Though our Lord had power all his own, he honored the Spirit of God, and worked by his energy, and mentioned the fact that he did so.” (Spurgeon)
d. And then he will plunder his house: Using an analogy, Jesus explained His authority to bind Satan’s power. He is stronger than the strong man is. In so doing, Jesus presented a valuable principle in spiritual warfare as we remember that Jesus gives us the permission to use His name and authority, giving us the strength we need in binding the strong man.
i. Jesus also made it clear that He was the stronger man who was not captive under the strong man. His message was, “I’m not under Satan’s power. Instead, I’m proving that I am stronger than he is by casting him out of those he has possessed.” “The very fact that I have been able so successfully to invade Satan’s territory is proof that he is bound and powerless to resist.” (Barclay)
ii. Jesus looks at every life delivered from Satan’s domination and says, “I’m plundering the kingdom of Satan one life at a time.” There is nothing in our life that must stay under Satan’s domination. The One who binds the strong man and will plunder his goods is our risen Lord.
3. (30-32) Jesus reveals the desperate place of those who could be hardened enough to attribute His workings to Satanic power.
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
a. He who is not with Me is against Me: Jesus first removed illusions about any neutral response to Him or His work. If one is not for Him, then that one is against Him. If one does not work with Jesus, by either active opposition or passive disregard, that one works against Jesus (he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad).
i. “Only two forces are at work in the world, the gathering and the scattering. Whoever does the one contradicts the other.” (Morgan)
b. Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven: Jesus solemnly warned the religious leaders against rejecting Him. Their rejection of Jesus – especially considered what they had seen of Jesus and His work – showed that they were completely rejecting the Holy Spirit’s ministry. That ministry is to testify to Jesus, hence the warning of committing the unforgivable sin.
i. The Holy Spirit’s main ministry is to testify of Jesus (He will testify of Me, John 15:26). When that testimony of Jesus is fully and finally rejected, one has truly blasphemed the Holy Spirit and essentially called Him a liar in respect to His testimony about Jesus. The religious leaders were close to this.
ii. To reject Jesus from a distance or with little information is bad; to reject the testimony of the Holy Spirit about Jesus is fatal.
c. It will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come: The eternal consequences of this sin force us to regard it seriously. Therefore, how can one know if they have in fact blasphemed the Holy Spirit? The fact that one desires Jesus at all shows that they are not guilty of this sin. Yet continued rejection of Jesus makes us more hardened against Him and puts us on the path of a full and final rejection of Him.
i. Some people – as a joke or a dare – intentionally say words they suppose commit the sin of blasphemy against the Spirit. They think it a light thing to joke with eternity. Yet true blasphemy against the Spirit is more than a formula of words; it is a settled disposition of life that rejects the testimony of the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus. Even if someone has intentionally said such things, they can still repent and prevent a settled rejection of Jesus.
ii. “Many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin; but let it be observed that no man who believes the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, ever can commit this sin: therefore let no man’s heart fail because of it, from henceforth and for ever, Amen.” (Clarke)
4. (33-37) The words of the religious leaders betray the depravity of their hearts.
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
a. A tree is known by its fruit: The bad fruit of their words (when they condemned Jesus) betrayed the bad root growing in their hearts. If they got their hearts right with God, their words about Jesus would also be right.
b. Brood of vipers! With these words, Jesus essentially called the religious leaders “sons of Satan.” They were a generation associated with the serpent, not with God. It was this evil nature that made them speak evil of Jesus (How can you, being evil, speak good things).
c. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks: Our words reveal our heart. If there were good treasure in the heart of these religious leaders, it would show itself in good things.
i. For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment: “Idle and wasted words are to be accounted for; what then of evil and wicked?” (Trapp)
ii. Adam Clarke said that the sense of the ancient Greek word used for an idle word is “a word that does nothing, that neither ministers grace nor instruction to them who hear it.” If this is true, many preachers might find themselves guilty of this sin.
d. By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned: By this Jesus answered an anticipated objection – that He made too much of mere words. Instead, because words reflect the heart, one can be rightly judged by their words.
i. Paul also wrote about the importance of our words: That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
C. The scribes and Pharisees request a sign from Jesus.
1. (38-40) Jesus responds to the request from the scribes and Pharisees.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
a. Teacher, we want to see a sign from You: Their desire to see a sign really expressed another way in which they hoped to reject Him. If Jesus did provide a sign, they would find some way to speak against it, thus proving to themselves that Jesus was who they already thought He was – an emissary of Satan (Matthew 12:24).
i. “The apparent respect and earnestness of the request are feigned: ‘teacher, we desire from you (emphatic position) to see a sign’. It reminds one of the mock homage of the soldiers at the Passion (Matthew 27:27-31).” (Bruce)
ii. “Had not Christ shown them signs enough? What were all the miracles he had wrought in their sight? They either speak this out of a further idle curiosity…or else they speak it in direct opposition.” (Poole)
b. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign: Jesus condemned their seeking after a sign, especially when countless signs had already happened before their eyes. It is easy to overestimate the power of miraculous signs to change the heart of doubters and skeptics.
c. The sign of the prophet Jonah: Jesus assured them of a sign, but the great sign He would show was the sign of a resurrected Jesus. Jonah was a prophet in the sense beyond his preaching to Nineveh; also his life was a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
d. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish: Jonah was indeed a picture of the work of Jesus. Jonah gave his life to appease the wrath of God coming upon others. But death did not hold him; after three days and nights of imprisonment, he was alive and free. This is a glorious picture of Jesus in an unexpected place.
i. Because Jesus here refers to three days and three nights, some think that Jesus had to spend at least 72 hours in the grave. This upsets most chronologies of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and is unnecessary – because it doesn’t take into account the use of ancient figures of speech. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (around the year AD 100; cited in Clarke and other sources) explained this way of speaking when he wrote: “A day and a night make a whole day, and a portion of a whole day is reckoned as a whole day.” This demonstrates how in Jesus’ day, the phrase three days and three nights did not necessarily mean a full 72-hour period, but a period including at least the portions of three days and three nights. There may be other good reasons for challenging the traditional chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not necessary in order to fulfill the words of Jesus here.
ii. If Jesus rose from the dead on the first day or on the fifth day, we could say “Jesus was a liar and a false prophet. He said He would rise again on the third day, but He got it wrong.” But Jesus didn’t get it wrong. He never does.
iii. Yet we should not miss the central point here. “You are asking for a sign – I am God’s sign. You have failed to recognize me. The Ninevites recognized God’s warning in Jonah; the Queen of Sheba recognized God’s wisdom in Solomon.” (Barclay)
2. (41-42) Jesus announces the condemnation of the religious leaders at the hands of the Ninevites and the queen of the South.
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”
a. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it: Simply put, greater light requires greater judgment. Both Nineveh and the queen of the South repented even though they had a lesser light shining in their midst. The rejection of the greater light by the religious leaders was indefensible.
i. Adam Clarke described several ways that the witness of Jesus was greater than Jonah.
· “Christ, who preached to the Jews, was infinitely greater than Jonah, in his nature, person, and mission.”
· “Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh only forty days, and Christ preached among the Jews for several years.”
· “Jonah wrought no miracles to authorize his preaching; but Christ wrought miracles every day, in every place where he went, and of every kind.”
· “Notwithstanding all this, the people of Judea did not repent, though the people of Nineveh did.”
b. A greater than Solomon is here: Solomon was the son of David, and one of the great messianic titles of Jesus is “Son of David.” Jesus was a much greater Son of David than Solomon was.
i. We again are impressed by the greatness of Jesus’ self-claim. To stand in front of these religious leaders and claim to be greater than Israel’s richest and wisest king was audacious. Yet the seeming audacity of Jesus was well justified.
3. (43-45) The dangerous consequences of their rejection of Jesus.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
a. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man: In context, the main point of Jesus was not upon principles of demon possession. He explained the seriousness of rejecting Him as completely as the religious leaders had.
i. This rejection and opposition of Jesus would leave them much worse off than ever before. This wicked generation – exemplified by the religious leaders who were rejecting Jesus – would find their last state…worse than the first. In large measure they rejected Jesus because He wasn’t messianic enough for their taste, in the sense of being a political and military messiah. Yet their thirst for this kind of messiah would lead them to ruin by AD 70.
ii. Yet the use of the illustration shows us some interesting principles of demon possession, and shows us that Jesus regarded it as a real phenomenon and not just a contemporary superstition. “If there had been no reality in demoniacal possessions, our Lord would have scarcely appealed to a case of this kind here, to point out the real state of the Jewish people, and the desolation which was coming upon them.” (Clarke)
b. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none: Apparently demons (or at least some of them) desire a human host and look for a place among the empty, seeing it as an invitation.
i. “The devil cannot be at rest where he hath no mischief to do to men.” (Poole)
ii. I will return to my house: “The foul fiend calls the man, ‘My house.’ His audacity is amazing. He did not build or buy that house, and he has no right to it.” (Spurgeon)
iii. A demon can only inhabit someone if he finds it empty – that is, without the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ. If it is empty, it does not matter to the demon if it is also swept, and put in order. “The devil has no objection to his house being swept and garnished; for a moralist may be as truly his slave as the man of debauched habits. So long as the heart is not occupied by his great foe, and he can use the man for his own purposes, the adversary of souls will let him reform as much as he pleases.” (Spurgeon)
iv. If we are filled with Jesus – being born again by the Spirit of God – then we cannot be empty and therefore inhabited by demons. “Though he shake his chain at us, he cannot fasten his fangs in us.” (Trapp)
c. And the last state of that man is worse than the first: This presses the urgency of being filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is something worse than being simply demon possessed; one can be possessed in a greater measure unto great misery. The answer to such misery is to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
4. (46-50) Jesus identifies His true family.
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
a. His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him: Considering the general context of opposition to Jesus, it may well be that the family of Jesus wanted to appeal to Him to not be so controversial in His ministry.
i. “The members of his family had come to take him, because they thought him beside himself. No doubt the Pharisees had so represented his ministry to his relatives that they thought they had better restrain him.” (Spurgeon)
b. Who is My mother and who are My brothers: We might have expected that Jesus’ family would have special privileges before Him. It almost surprises us that they did not have such special privileges.
i. Who is My mother: Mary, the mother of Jesus, had no special favor with Jesus either then or now. She stands as a wonderful example of one who was privileged by God and stood by Jesus, but she is not on a higher level than anyone who does the will of My Father in heaven.
ii. Who are My brothers: Jesus plainly had brothers. The Roman Catholic idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary is in contradiction to the plain meaning of the Bible. But the brothers of Jesus never seemed to be supportive of His ministry before His death and resurrection (John 7:5).
iii. “The most natural way to understand ‘brothers’ is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side.” Efforts to make brothers mean something else are “nothing less than farfetched exegesis in support of a dogma that originated much later than the New Testament.” (Carson)
c. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother: These beloved ones who do the will of God stand in contrast to the evil and adulterous generation represented by the Pharisees (Matthew 12:39).
i. “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We can see this as a gracious invitation – even to these religious leaders who deepened their hostility against Jesus and plotted against Him. They could still come and be part of His family.
iii. “Those are the best acknowledged relatives of Christ who are united to him by spiritual ties, and who are become one with him by the indwelling of his Spirit. We generally suppose that Christ’s relatives must have shared much of his affectionate attention; and doubtless they did: but here we find that whosoever does the will of God is equally esteemed by Christ, as his brother, sister, or even his virgin mother.” (Clarke)
iv. “The only thing to be further learned from this paragraph is, how dear believers and holy persons are to Christ; he counts them as dear as mother, brethren, or sisters, and thereby teacheth us the esteem we ought to have for such.” (Poole)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission